Francisco Santos, who was Colombia’s vice president from 2002-2010, met with leaders of the AUC rightist militia federation on three occasions in the 1990s, paramilitary chiefs are heard to say in an audio broadcast Tuesday by Caracol Radio.
The recording is of a conversation among former AUC military commander Salvatore Mancuso, two other senior militia leaders, an unnamed attorney and an Argentine adviser to the paramilitaries, Caracol said.
The meetings with Santos took place in 1996-1997 in Bogota and in the northern provinces of Cesar and Cordoba, both then AUC strongholds, the voices on the tape say.
Present for the talks with Santos was Carlos Castaño, the AUC’s founder, who was slain in 2004 by a rival faction within the group, which ostensibly demobilized in 2006 as part of a peace process with the government of President Alvaro Uribe.
In one encounter, according to Mancuso, Santos urged the AUC to kill “all those SOBs that are taking this country,” referring to leftist rebels.
But he asked the militias not to “disappear” their targets, as that could become a problem for the foundation Santos created to battle kidnapping and aid victims’ families.
At the time of his discussions with the AUC, Francisco “Paco” Santos was editor-in-chief of Colombia’s leading newspaper, El Tiempo.
Paco Santos, the cousin of current Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, has acknowledged having met twice with Castaño and once with Mancuso, to ask them to address El Tiempo reporters about the conflict.
Mancuso and 12 other former AUC commanders were extradited to the United States in 2008 to face drug and money-laundering charges.
AUC fighters killed more than 250,000 people over the course of two decades, according to a U.S. State Department cable disseminated by WikiLeaks.